Friday, June 27, 2014

Punishment To Al Jazeera Journalists: Saudi Vendetta Against Muslim Brotherhood

Punishment To Al Jazeera Journalists: Saudi Vendetta Against Muslim Brotherhood
                                                                        Saeed Naqvi

Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt were given severe sentences because that is the way the Saudis wanted it. The Qatari channel was always an eyesore to the Saudis but was recently being tolerated, even encouraged, by Riyadh for the limited purpose of stalling the Arab Spring.

A channel built on liberal, democratic values owned by the Emirate of Qatar is a colossal contradiction in terms. But despite the contradiction, its credibility was far in excess of CNN and BBC which is why the Saudis first enlisted its support for the Libyan operations which, for a while, overlapped with the Syrian operations too.

When Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani dethroned his father in 1995 as the Emir of Qatar, the Saudis were very cross. It was a bad precedent and violated the etiquette of Kingdoms and Emirates in the region. The new Emir survived a coup attempt. Osama bin Laden’s war on the House of Saud against the stationing of American troops in the land of Islam’s holiest shrines provided an opportunity for Qatar to host CENTCOM, the great US war machine. Saudi Arabia was upstaged again.

Then came the ultimate affront. Qatar launched Al Jazeera, again thwarting a Saudi initiative. Saudi king Fahd’s cousin, Khalid bin Faisal al Saud’s Orbit Communications had entered into an agreement with BBC. The BBC was in urgent need of finances to boost its World TV operations launched hurriedly because CNN international had stolen a march by covering Operation Desert Storm in February 1991. CNN TV’s Peter Arnett was launched as the world’s principal war correspondent from the terrace of Baghdad’s Al Rasheed hotel at a time when John Simpson was still running around Baghdad with a satellite telephone for BBC radio.

BBC’s arrangement with Saudi’s Orbit Communications collapsed within fifteen months because Riyadh would not allow the network to telecast a documentary on “beheading” as a punishment in the Kingdom. Immediately, Qatar clasped BBCs hand and launched Al Jazeera.

After 9/11, when the Western media launched their major propaganda offensives in the process of covering the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Saudis were a hundred percent supportive. But Al Jazeera struck a discordant note. It began to project the other side of the story. It became the sole outlet for Osama bin Laden’s exclusive interviews. Viewership grew exponentially. This was also the time when newborns in Afghanistan were named Osama as a matter of pride. This unnerved the West.

My good friend, the late Fouad Ajami, an unlikely Neo Con, wrote editorials damning Al Jazeera. Colin Powel was livid. Al Jazeera offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed. The channel’s principal correspondent was jailed in Spain, of all places. But its popularity kept soaring, for these very reasons.

In fact, Western high handedness conferred on al Jazeera something of a halo. It looked like a David surrounded by a range of Goliaths, further magnifying the anti US-Saudi sentiment in the region.

Despite his adverse chemistry with the Emir of Qatar, Saudi King Abdullah sought al Jazeera’s help in stalling the Arab spring. It had by February 2011 taken a toll of western friends like Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and Zain el Abedin Ben Ali  in Tunis.

Why was Al Jazeera’s credibility so avidly sought? Because Western electronic media had exhausted all its credibility in the West Asian wars since Operation Desert Storm and post 9/11 occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Western media’s coverage of the colour “revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon also strained its credibility.

So singularly lacking in credibility was the Western media in the military operations in Libya and Syria, that Al Jazeera’s help was sought to shore up some credibility.

Western networks and social sites had carried so much exaggeration and downright lies on both, Libya and Syria, that at the earlier stages it was proving difficult to whip up a peoples movement inside the two theatres of operations.

The US was working on new technologies to dissemble in the midst of military operations. James Glanz and John Markoff of the New York Times wrote:

“The State Department is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside their reach” in countries like Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq.

After a cruel end to the Qaddafi saga, and the stalemate in Syria, the Saudis found that the Qataris were punching above their weight, trying to mediate between the Taleban and Kabul, linking up the Muslim Brotherhood strands in Egypt, Turkey and Hamas – in each instance upstaging Riyadh. If there is one group the Saudis are even more paranoid about than Iran, it is the Akhwan ul Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood which is ideologically opposed to the institution of the King in Saudi Arabia. Hence the Saudi’s instant support to Abdel Fattah el Sisi’s coup ousting Mohammad Morsi and the Brothers.

Saudis by now have squeezed as much of the Al Jazeera lemon as they could in Libya and Syria. During days of Saudi co-operation with Qatar in Libya and Syria, Al Jazeera entrenched itself in Egypt too. The House of Saud barely tolerated the burgeoning romance between the Brothers and Al Jazeera.

The day Morsi fell, Saudis placed $10 billion in Sisi’s treasury and purchased for themselves the right to eradicate Muslim Brotherhood and its support base. The harsh punishment meted out to the Al Jazeera’s journalists, is in effect Riyadh getting even with the “cheeky” Emirate of Qatar on that score.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Modi Must Re Engage And Shape The Historic Changes In West Asia

Modi Must Re Engage And Shape The Historic Changes In West Asia
                                                                                                Saeed Naqvi

“Jup raha hai aaj maala ek Hindu ki Arab
Barhaman zaade mein shaan e dilbari aisi tau ho
Hikmat e Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ki kasam
Mar mitey Islam jispey kafiri aisi to ho”

Arabs are chanting the name of a Hindu,
Just look at the heart winning prince among Brahmins,
Behold the statesmanship of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru,
World of Islam lies at the feet of this non believer, free of sins.

There is a great deal to despair about Nehru’s legacy, but another occasion for that. Here, the poet is spot on, eulogizing India’s first Prime Minister as he led the newly independent nation, charting a course that was more or less equidistant between the power blocs.

In effect New Delhi leaned more towards Moscow because it happened to be geographically nearer home. Also, in the early aftermath of decolonization, socialism, not capitalism, was the fashionable creed. That free enterprise was required as an ingredient in the early stages of nation building was recognized. What was accepted, therefore, was a “mixed” economy.

As leader of the non-aligned and the Afro-Asian bloc, Nehru was more equal than others, even above Gamal Abdel Nasser. The grouping consisted of 52 Muslim countries too. In all of these Nehru and India were respected a notch above the rest – Indian civilization trumped religious differences.

There is an exquisite irony involved in the verse I have translated at the outset: it was written by Raees Amrohvi, a Pakistani. It was composed at an early stage of our relations when a compulsive hostility was not the guiding principle of policy towards each other.

There are several points to note here. Despite the fact that Pakistan was a theocratic, Islamic republic, there was no Pakistani leader Raees could think of and which the Arab world was familiar with. The national movement under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership had boosted Indian prestige way above religious denominations. It is the cobwebs of our minds which have allowed Hindu-Muslim complications to multiply.

Groupings did come up which were hostile to India but these did not derive strength from an Islamic bond. For instance, New Delhi cast a wary glance on the Ankara, Teheran, Islamabad axis. But neither Ataturk’s Turkey nor the Shah’s Iran (or even Ayub Khan’s Pakistan, for that matter) were attached to Islamism. It was an American sponsored axis in the context of the cold war.

It is generally not recognized that Organization of Islamic cooperation was a grouping of pro west Muslim states which, under Western prodding, tried to embarrass New Delhi on issues like Kashmir. This was almost always neutralized by deft diplomatic handling. At the Casablanca summit of the OIC in 1995, Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao allowed Kashmiri leaders like Moulvi Mohammad Farooq to attend the summit. Their attendance was not even noticed by the summiteers.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 caught India in a bind. The departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan caused the spare, Jehadi energy to turn upon Kashmir. Jobless Jehadists also found their way to Egypt, Algeria and beyond. West’s sponsorship of Jehadism in Afghanistan in the 80s is still extracting a heavy price.

American triumphalism after the Cold War expressed itself in the biggest military expedition since the Second World War. Operation Desert Storm in February 1992 was followed by the occupation of Iraq in April 2003. Between these dates was 9/11 leading to the occupation of Afghanistan in November 2001.

These developments were accompanied by saturation TV coverage. The newly created global media beamed images mornings and evenings. The world watched in its drawing rooms the defeat of societies like Afghanistan and Iraq and a relentless targeting of terrorism, with Muslims in primary focus. This became part of 24X7 TV in India as well. Islamophobia infected India too. That is why the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 was India’s first communal catastrophe boosted by a global anti Muslim atmosphere.

The altered world situation did warrant a total recasting of foreign policy. But instead of reordering foreign policy according to its lights, New Delhi allowed an impression to grow that it would follow American lead in foreign affairs.

In this frame of mind, New Delhi agreed to the proposition that it would help the US administer the Kurdish north of Iraq. Ships were loaded with military hardware, troops were in readiness to travel to northern Iraq. New Delhi was willing to partner the US in the occupation of Iraq. Yes, it is true.

Only Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee kept his counsel. He was opposed to the expedition and he made his opposition known in his own way. On April 9, 2003 he saw Saddam Hussain’s statue being pulled down in Baghdad’s Firdaus Square. Vajpayee drew a conclusion exactly the opposite from his cabinet. On April 18, he arrived in Srinagar. Remember, after the December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament, Indian and Pakistani forces were in a posture of collision. But he surprised everybody by holding out his hand to Pakistan. An awesome power has arisen, he said. All local quarrels must be ended for greater regional cooperation.

Not only was Manmohan Singh not able to demonstrate comparable spine, he turned out to be the most obsequious of all Prime Ministers, even after the unipolar-world-moment had passed.

This is the state of play when Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes charge. So far he has sketched a balanced design in Foreign Affairs. He must also place West Asia on his radar because this vital part of our near abroad is in rapid change. A new West Asia is emerging. We must engage at the highest level and help shape this change, taking heart from Raees Amrohvi’s optimism many moons ago.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

The Gandhis Must Vacate For An Opposition To Take Shape

The Gandhis Must Vacate For An Opposition To Take Shape
                                                                                 Saeed Naqvi

After the vigorous opening speech in the Lok Sabha by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi’s rump of a party looked even more battered and bruised.

The most reassuring news for them since the May 16 election results is spread across three columns of Time of India: Gandhis will personally probe the poll defeat. In other words the regular system of the famous A.K. Antony committees to investigate Congress defeats is being discarded.

Antony, an acute Gandhi loyalist, never in the course of his numerous probes, turned the search lights on his political masters. But this time he may be left with no room for maneuver. The Gandhis will be on the dissection table. Reports of irreversible poor health may be leaked. What better way to stop the leak than sink the very idea of the Antony Committee.

That the mother and son team have undertaken to probe the party’s rout implies that their leadership was not flawed, that the fault for the debacle lies elsewhere. The decision also implies that atleast the Gandhis believe there still is a party under their leadership, intact.

Senior leaders have been charting their own course. As soon as Commerce Minister Anand Sharma sensed rout, he obtained from Sonia the permission to represent the Congress at President Zuma’s inauguration in South Africa. Earlier Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid requested the Egyptians to let him see Luxor as India’s Minister for External Affairs.

Shashi Tharoor, with eye always on the main chance, began to publicly wish Narendra Modi were his leader, inviting a rebuke from Mani Shankar Aiyar who went on to say on TV that “Rahul should be allowed to do the good work he is doing”.

The greatest security for the Gandhis, one which will keep them on their perch, is that there is no life left in the rump to ask questions. Those who could have asked questions, like Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia, have been kept outside the paddock. The simple principle of dynasties is: the crown prince must not have a challenger. The queen must never be upstaged. Even for the job of the President of India she could only settle for the lackluster Pratibha Patil.

The truth is that the make-belief shrouding the last days of the Gandhis cannot last very much longer. Their saga is not likely to end in tragedy. Tragedies require a quality of heroism which is missing here. Their’s is shaping up to a pathetic end. Are they really waiting for another rout in the state elections?

It is very easy for Sonia Gandhi to blame the spectacular defeat on scams, the party’s inability to communicate, unmotivated cadres, debilitating bipolarity at the top, unidentifiable leadership, a formidable list. Will she ever admit to herself that she was badly advised by a concentric circle of advisers who did not have their fingers on the pulse?

It will be an act of great courage to face the unbelievably harsh truth. Never has a political family been so universally hated, despised, loathed. This was part of the energy which became a wave for Modi.

Sonia Gandhi must reflect (the young man seems incapable of any reflection) how adoration in 2004, when she refused the Prime Ministership, turned to such undiluted disgust by 2014.

From the very beginning, the Congress President demonstrated her inability to distinguish between loyalty and sycophancy. Remember Oscar Fernandez weeping inconsolably because “Madame” had refused the crown. And the dim Renuka Chaudhury let loose upon chat show audiences as some sort of a Congress intellectual. She too was rewarded for having wept copiously at “Mam’s” refusal of the crown.

From the very outset, Sonia Gandhi was credited with charisma she never had. P.V. Narasimha Rao had brought the party down to 140 seats in the 1996 elections. Sonia Gandhi never improved on the party’s dismal performance. In 2009, when the Congress bagged 209 seats, the credit was placed at Rahul Gandhi’s door for having generated a great youth surge. The solitary beneficiary of this faulty diagnosis was Omar Abdullah. His father’s candidature as Chief Minister was set aside in deference to the “youth surge”. Omar proceeded to have a ball by setting up a lavish bungalow in Lutyens Delhi and became a commuting Chief Minister with remote control.

The leader of the youth brigade, Rahul Gandhi, kept the Congress, opposition, captains of Industry, the media, on sixes and sevens with his hare brained schemes about a new system of selecting candidates. Even if Congress leaders saw great merit in Rahul Gandhi’s pearls of wisdom, the nation, 65 percent of which is populated by under 35 years of age, saw through the rubbish. The drubbing they have administered in these elections will keep the Gandhis against the ropes, gasping. If they do not chalk out an exit strategy for themselves and, in a dazed state, wait for the state elections, I am afraid they are waiting for a knockout punch. It would be nice if the Gandhis make way gracefully. The country needs a focused opposition.

After the Babri Masjid debacle, P.V. Narasimha Rao called a Congress session at Tirupati in 1993. The party elected a Working Committee not to Narasimha Rao’s liking – Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar, Rajesh Pilot and so on. Willfully, he found reasons to annul the AICC results. Well, the Gandhis must hold similar elections and, unlike P.V., abide by the results. Otherwise they will be trapped like sparrows in a movie hall flapping against the giant screen in full public view.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

#WideAngle on "India looks at China & Japan" (Part 2)

#WideAngle on "India looks at China & Japan" (Part 1)

Will India Have Its Own World Media On Modi’s Watch?

Will India Have Its Own World Media On Modi’s Watch?
                                                                          Saeed Naqvi
Outside SAARC, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was the first world leader to call Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was followed up by Beijing sending its foreign minister, Wang Yi to New Delhi on Sunday.

South Block grasped the signals. But when I opened the newspapers, I could have sworn that a chill was about to descend between the two countries.

There were no analyses of a new promise in Sino-Indian relations, possible investment in Indian infrastructure (the Chinese have $3.5 trillion parked precariously in US banks and treasury bonds), an interesting China, Japan, US triangle is emerging. Instead, all newspapers carried extensive coverage of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square. All the pieces were passionate indictments of human rights in China, ironically on a day when the Badaun rape tragedy was shaming us in the United Nations.

Narendra Modi has been to China on four occasions as Chief Minister of Gujarat, twice as State guest, feted at the Great Hall of the People. What, then, was the source of this new found zeal for human rights in China? Even Prime Time TV had set aside a slot to focus on grim looking Chinese, marching with candles.

You would have thought the channels had flown out special teams to Tiananmen Square to cover the event. But this is not the way the World Information Order functions. In fact nothing was happening in Beijing. Channels like CNN, combining with the social media, had whipped up frenzy in Hong Kong which a battery of cameras captured. The footage created the illusion of a nation commemorating Tiananmen Square.

It was this footage which was made available to channels across the globe hooked habitually to a grid controlled in New York and London. The media’s critical faculty has been so numbed over a century of colonial experience that it cannot, on occasion, separate news from propaganda.

The hot-and-cold relationship the US has with China results in wild fluctuations of mood between the two countries. China’s trade surplus of $200 billion annually represent one facet of the relationship. And yet the Chinese are viciously needled by Americans too. Reacting to one such provocation, a Chinese leader became unusually lucid. He described America as “first class rascal”.

Consider this against another evolving story. Briefing the media in St. Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin expanded on the “extraordinarily” new substance in Sino-Russian equation of which $400 billion gas contract is an important part.

Putin also spoke at length on Russian-India relations, on India’s helpful stand on Ukraine, and the telephonic conversation he had with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This is a sensitive phase for a major realignment of global forces. Indian stakes are high with the West as well as with China and Russia with both of which US lobbies are developing adversarial relations. Hillary Clinton has already given notice (more or less) that she intends to raise the pitch on Ukraine should she be in sight of the Democratic nomination for the 2016 elections.

In the world’s eyes, India today is a vibrant, exciting destination. Public opinion in the country is supportive of the lines that are opening up with all important capitals. But an aggravation of West’s confrontation with, say, Russia (even China) will affect Indian public opinion too. Why? Because the West’s demonization of Russian and possibly Chinese leaders will also expose Indian public opinion to these diatribes because we are still locked into the colonial information grid.

The point I am making is this: not having our own means of covering world affairs, our media ends up using stuff which is part of someone else’s agenda. It is sometimes inimical to our interests. Public opinion in India gets manipulated whenever the US throws a tantrum with, say Bashar al Assad. On Egyptian or Syrian elections we have only western versions. We do not have a single news bureau in SAARC countries, China, Japan, anywhere? For the world’s largest democracy, this is something of a shame.

If we had a news bureau in Kabul, we would have been much better informed about the attack on the Indian consulate in Herat or the circumstances in which Alexis Prem Kumar was kidnapped. Must we depend on Western journalists to inform us about Kabul, Jaffna or Kathmandu?

Must the world’s largest democracy be a passive recipient of images beamed from news centres controlled by CNN, BBC, Reuters and Associated Press? This is a disgraceful state of affairs.  We must proceed along with these networks but only as part of a concert of democracies.

What is required is a Public Service Media not tied to existing systems like Doordarshan or Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha TV. It is much easier to start something new rather than reform existing systems which have developed deep seated habits.

New Delhi gives away billions in assistance to SAARC neighbours. It must take a leap of faith and concurrently invest a billion dollars in its own media which must also cover world affairs as comprehensively as CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera. The returns in power, prestige, influence and business will be astronomical.

Create a Board of Trustees with someone with national prestige and credibility as chairman. The Board will insulate your editorial team from the market as well as the government.

If information is power, it follows that a control on sources of information is essential to wield that power. It is also not possible to conduct an independent foreign policy if the sources of information are controlled by London or Atlanta, Georgia. Those stations will continue to cast a shadow on our public opinion unless we have a global media of our own.

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